Psychology student Olivia's there to listen — and it's helping others and herself...

15 Mar 2024


Young woman with long dark hair standing in front of brick wallLike many of us, University of Winchester Psychology student Olivia Cochran spends hours on her phone but a sizeable chunk of her mobile time is spent helping others.

Olivia, 20, is a volunteer for Hammersley Homes, in Lymington, which supports adults with enduring mental health problems and loneliness in particular.

As a remote support worker, she works with three vulnerable people who she calls each week to listen to their worries and concerns and help with anything they may be struggling with.

Being a sympathetic ear has been a challenging and rewarding experience, says the 20-year-old from Hailsham, East Sussex.

“At the beginning it was quite daunting having to appear confident and competent,” said Olivia. “But I have become more confident, and I think I know how to talk to people with problems and I think this comes across.”

She believes her BSc Psychology course at the University of Winchester has helped in volunteering work and vice versa.

“It’s given me a great understanding of mental health issues.” said this-year student Olivia. “It’s one thing reading about these issues but it’s quite different when you see people experiencing them for real.”

Olivia has great deal of empathy with the people she supports, as she herself suffered stress and anxiety following a swimming injury three years ago which left her with permanent nerve damage.

Since tearing the trapezius muscle at the base of her neck Olivia has suffered Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) which means sometimes she has difficult walking and must take painkillers.

“This allows me to have more empathy and a deeper understanding of some of the things they are going through.”

“I became interested in psychology while reading about the workings of the brain after my injury,” said Olivia.

A meeting with a clinical psychologist as a result of her injury inspired her to study the subject at university.

Her dissertation is on High and Low Dependence Disorders and she hopes to pursue a career in clinical psychology.

Olivia has already lined up a four-month paid internship with Change 100, a scheme run by Leonard Cheshire, to work with people with mental health issues once she has completed her course.

Olivia, found about Hammersley through the Careers Support page of the University of Winchester website which lists many different kinds of volunteering opportunities for Winchester students.

"I think anyone can volunteer," Olivia says. "It's so important you have that empathy and respect.  A little visit for you can make a massive impact on someone else's life."

Louise Hallett, a founder and trustee of Hammersley Homes, said: “We at Hammersley Homes rely heavily on people like Olivia to volunteer with us and help us to support some of the vulnerable people we work with.

“Olivia has been amazing and has made a real difference to the lives of the people she calls each week, offering a listening ear and some friendship.   Kindness and compassion go such a long way to help improve lives, and Olivia has lots of that!   Our volunteers are very valuable to us, and we always need more - all it takes is some kindness and a bit of time each week to really make a difference to a vulnerable life.


About volunteering at University of Winchester

The University of Winchester and Winchester Student Union offer over 150 opportunities to get involved with activities outside your degree, including sport clubs and Societies, Interest Groups, Extra-curricular Academic Engagement, Jobs on Campus and Volunteering – and taking part in such activities equips students with a broad range of transferable skills to prepare them for life after University and to strengthen their CVs. Find out more at Get Involved - University of Winchester

The University runs a volunteering programme with St John’s Winchester, which has run almshouses in the city since the 16th century and also operates three outreach services – Hand in Hand, St John’s Homeshare, and Dementia Support – all of which focus on helping older people to live well and independently at home for as long as possible. Students from the University already volunteer as befrienders with the charity’s Hand in Hand Service.

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